Some offered early retirement
El Paso Inc. - November 21, 2011, By Robert Gray, El Paso Inc. staff writer
Some of the 4,000 civilian employees who work at Fort Bliss have been handed early retirement offers, as post officials work to meet cost-cutting targets set by the Army.
Maj. Gen. Dana Pittard
It's not clear exactly how many employees are affected.
According to Fort Bliss commander Maj. Gen. Dana Pittard, positions are also being cut through attrition, and in some cases, officials have to seek permission to fill vacant positions.
But Pittard emphasizes that out and out layoffs will be the "last option."
"We want to cut costs before we ever cut people," Pittard told El Paso Inc. in an interview late Friday.
While the specifics are still hazy, Pittard is clear that the cuts to civilian positions will have minimal impact because of all the other growth happening at the post.
"In the aggregate it will seem minimal. Now, saying minimal is one thing but to the person who's losing their job, it is not minimal. It is catastrophic to you, and we understand that," he says.
That the word "cut" is even being mentioned at all in relation to Fort Bliss represents a new reality for a post that has seen explosive growth since 2005, as billions of dollars have been spent on construction and tens of thousands of soldiers have surged onto the Army post.
So far, opportunities to cut without laying anyone off at Fort Bliss have abounded.
"Our nation is $14.7 trillion dollars in debt, so we've just got to be better stewards of the resources we are given," Pittard says.
After a five-month review of contracts at Fort Bliss done earlier this year, Pittard says they have found and cut many redundancies.
The review was conducted by an outside team of officials from the Army Contracting Command.
The review found that Fort Bliss had 72 different copier contracts, which have now been consolidated into fewer than four, according to Pittard. It was a similar situation with cell phones, he says.
The post also had contracts for grounds maintenance from two different entities on post.
Then there is cable television.
"Why do we need cable in so many of our offices?" Pittard says.
And the fire station at William Beaumont Army Medical Center?
"Do we really need a fire station there when there is another one that is five minutes away that can respond to William Beaumont just as well," Pittard says.
While the target for Army-wide cuts has varied - it was set at 10 percent at one point - and with a recent change of leadership at the Army Installation Management Command, Pittard said it would be purely speculation to say what the targets are at this point.
Pittard says he has looked at how Fort Bliss can better use its resources since taking command in the summer of 2010, but now there is a much greater sense of urgency and the targets for cuts are much steeper.
If layoffs had to happen, Fort Bliss would be "duty bound" to help people find positions elsewhere, Pittard says.
On Capitol Hill, U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, says that he is working to protect the growth that is happening at Fort Bliss.
"From our perspective, we don't want any cuts at Fort Bliss, which is on its way to becoming the largest Army facility in the country," Reyes told El Paso Inc. in an interview Friday.
He is a senior member of the powerful House Armed Services Committee and played a central role in the Defense Department's decision to grow Fort Bliss as part of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure program.
"Are there areas we can look at that we can find areas to save money, absolutely," Reyes says of defense spending. But he adds that cuts have to be made strategically to prevent a "hollowing out of the force."
"Historically, we have never faced so many asymmetrical threats as we are today," he says.
Reyes is seeking re-election to the District 16 seat he has held since 1997 in a race against former City Council Rep. Beto O'Rourke. Of the $240,663 Reyes has raised for re-election from Political Action Committees in the past 7 months, $55,000 appears to have come from defense contractors - almost 23 percent.
The Army is looking to shrink its force by 27,000 soldiers and also trying to cut more than 8,000 civilian jobs by October 2012, according to a CNN report in August.
The cuts will be accomplished through voluntary early separation or retirement, attrition, and, if necessary, layoffs, according to the report.
As for any cuts at Fort Bliss, the impact will be more than offset by all the other growth, Pittard says.
Most notably, the post is building nearly 3,000 more houses, a billion-dollar medical center and working with El Paso Community College to build another campus on East Bliss.
And while Fort Bliss is home to the brigade modernization command, eventually Pittard says, the post will be home to the Army's entire modernization effort.
And that all adds up to more jobs, he says.
"Whatever we do it is always, always with our soldiers, civilians and family members forefront in our minds in terms of making sure that people are taken care of and that we never let readiness slip," Pittard says. "We are fighting a war."
Will the readiness of the soldiers stationed at Fort Bliss slip?
"Not on my watch," he says.
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